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Spaniard reveals previous owners didn't have the cash for top target Jovetic

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has taken a dig at Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson's way of dealing with refereeing decisions that do not go his way.

The Scot has a history of lambasting officials when he feels the decisions have gone against his charges, the latest instance being his criticism of Martin Atkinson after the match against Chelsea - which the Red Devils lost 2-1. Ferguson was unhappy with Atkinson's decisions not to dismiss David Luiz and then to award Chelsea a penalty from which they scored the winning goal. He now faces an FA charge of improper conduct for his comments - a charge he intends to contest.

"I think we have to have respect [towards referees]," Benitez said in an interview with The Daily Mail.

"The example we give to the children is really important. If you are a referee, it's not easy because everyone wants to win and so there will be cheating. The problem is that the people who are doing the right thing [by respecting referees] have to have some benefit. And to the people who are not doing this, someone has to say: 'Enough is enough'."

The ex-Anfield boss believes that managers should not intimidate match officials to get a decision to go their way, which is a sentiment he has tended towards since his infamous rant against Ferguson.

At that time, the Spaniard was guiding his side through arguably their most potent title challenge of the past two decades, when he decided to take aim at the veteran Old Trafford boss.

"I knew that they [United] had some problems, that we were winning and top of the league and they were under pressure," recalled Benitez.

"I just wanted a level playing field until the end of the season. But, now in football, the more you shout the more famous and more important you become and the more people seem to take notice of you."

In the event, Benitez was unable to steer the Reds to the coveted Premier League title. But the former Valencia and Inter boss defended himself by pointing a finger at the club's much-maligned former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

He said: "You cannot bring in two or three top-class players if you don't have the money. You have to sell. We sold Xabi Alonso and bought Glen Johnson, Alberto Aquilani and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. We [should have] had money but I couldn't use it because we had to meet the interest payments."

The 50-year-old also revealed that if he had had the money, he was looking to bring in a major star.

"We had one top-class player who was our target, Fiorentina's Stevan Jovetic," said the Spaniard. "As far as I was concerned, we had the money for him in our budget. But then the owners said: 'No, no, we don't have the money'. Then he scored against us in the Champions League to help knock us out!

"If you have your budget and you know that is happening, fine. But my budget was always given to me as a net figure [after taxes] for wage negotiation. But in the last year it was gross - a massive difference - but I didn't know. No one told me it had changed.

"Sometimes you were talking with [co-owner] George Gillett and it was fine; sometimes you were talking with Tom Hicks and it was fine. Sometimes one was saying the opposite of the other. The problem was when they say to you one thing and then it changes."

The former Anfield favourite also maintained that he was not responsible for the decline that the Reds underwent this season under the management of Roy Hodgson, who has since been replaced, with Kenny Dalglish being handed the reins.

"Everything was 'Blame Rafa'," he said, concerning the slump that saw the Merseyside outfit slip into the drop zone at one point. "But now, with Dalglish in charge, and without new players, because Carroll hasn't played and Suarez has hardly played, the same group of players are doing much better [than under Hodgson].

"Two years ago they were finishing second. In football it is a question sometimes of the mentality, understanding the players, the atmosphere, the confidence."

Liverpool take on Manchester United in a crucial game at Anfield today.

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